From there I decided to spend some time along March Valley Road, where there are usually some ponds that attract dabbling ducks and watery fields that attract shorebirds. Last year I was lucky enough to spot a couple of Northern Shovelers, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and single White-rumped Sandpiper in May. I was hoping for a similar experience this year and was not disappointed.
I was driving with the windows down and stopped when I heard a number of birds singing. I got out of the car and started walking along the road, listening to my first Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers of the year. I also saw my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak – a female – and Blue-headed Vireo in the same area. A pair of Eastern Kingbirds were chasing each other and hawking for insects; I was able to get quite close to one of them.
A little further along I stopped by a mucky field covered in puddles; I saw a pair of Gadwalls hanging out near a large puddle with some Canada Geese and several shorebirds scurrying along the wet areas! The three Killdeer weren’t unexpected, but a Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Solitary Sandpiper were all new for the year. I also heard a Wilson’s Snipe keening in the wet area on the other side of the fence where the large pond on Klondike used to be.
In the new pond beside Klondike Road I saw three Hooded Mergansers diving for fish; I heard my first Baltimore Oriole and Great Crested Flycatcher of the year close by. Altogether I tallied 32 species along March Valley Road – more than the number of species I’d seen there in all of 2013 despite a productive visit near the end of May.
I followed that wonderful visit with a stop at Shirley’s Bay where I found 35 species – including seven warblers! My visit got off to a good start when a pair of Ospreys flew right over the boat launch toward the river….
…and I found a Snowshoe Hare in the scrubby area behind the picnic shelter. This was one of two Snowshoe Hares I saw that day, both of which still had remnants of their snowy white pelage.
An Eastern Phoebe near the boat launch was one of three flycatcher species I found there; I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher and heard a Least Flycatcher.
The warbler-watching was fantastic. As I wandered the area between the river and the Hilda Road feeders I got great looks at a Northern Parula and a stunning Blackburnian Warbler, came across a group of Palm Warblers foraging on the ground with a Field Sparrow, and counted at least two Black-and-white Warblers, five Yellow Warblers, and three American Redstarts, all of which were new for the year (except the Field Sparrow)!
Dozens of Cedar Waxwings had descended on the area, which made it challenging to locate different species whenever I saw something moving in the shrubs. Gray Catbirds and House Wrens had both returned, and I finally got a decent photo of a Brown Thrasher. I was edging around a shrub to get an unobstructed view when all of a sudden the Brown Thrasher darted into the tangle of shrubs. I thought I had spooked him; then I saw a falcon fly by – the resident Merlin? – and realized what had caused the thrasher to flee. I wasn’t able to relocate the falcon to find out what it was.
On my way home I stopped in at Sarsparilla Trail. In the parking lot I found a Chipping Sparrow and heard a Purple Finch singing. The Chipping Sparrow posed nicely on a rock for me; usually I photograph them at my feeder, so it was nice getting one in a more natural setting!
I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a vireo (possibly a Blue-headed Vireo) singing in the conifers beyond the parking lot. I followed a small trail into the woods, and that’s when I saw it: a pile of animal bones scattered about in the middle of the trail.
It was kind of creepy but kind of neat. The animal looked larger than the red squirrels that call Stony Swamp home, and probably larger that the an Eastern Gray Squirrel; I wasn’t sure if it was a rabbit or even a skunk. The skull was not intact, making it difficult to confirm that it was even a rodent (the teeth are usually a dead giveaway…no pun intended).
There did appear to be some fur close to the pelvis. It looks to me as though the animal died here, perhaps in the late summer or fall, and was left to decompose over the winter. My guess is that scavengers scattered the bones, rather than a predator feeding on the animal. I would love to hear what my learned naturalist friends think about this find!
I didn’t see much at Sarsaparilla; I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and some Swamp Sparrows singing by the pond. On the other hand, I did get a nice photo of a female Red-winged Blackbird on the boardwalk:
I also managed to photograph a Spring Azure in the woods. These little blue butterflies are one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring.
I had a great day with a wonderful variety of species and a little bit of mystery. After enjoying all the colourful songbirds and shorebirds, butterflies and Snowshoe Hares, I was reminded that even in life there is death, and that watching nature isn’t just about the beautiful and the heartwarming moments.